Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Objectification: no longer gender specific

It seems I hit a nerve last Friday with my discussion of the objectification of women. We all know it happens. We are all tired of it. We all want it to stop.

But here is something that we maybe don't consider as often: objectifying bodies is not limited to women. Instead of getting rid of the problem of turing women into sex symbols the problem is spreading. Men are under increasing pressure to fit an ideal standard as well.

Women are generally pressured to be ridiculously thin. We are portrayed as weak, dependent, thin. Men on the other hand need to be strong, muscular, manly, capable. There is little room for men to be anything else. Varying body types are not looked on with favor in this idealized media world. Neither are varying interests. Men are supposed to be able to fix the sink with their shirt off. No room for a guy who likes to spend his afternoon tucked in a book instead, for example.

Don't really think it's happening in the media to men as well as women? Have you seen the Old Spice ads:

Don't get me wrong, I think this particular group of commercials is hilarious, as I'm sure many of you do, but behind the humor is the objectifying once more.

There has been a recent rise in men with eating disorders, and many more who have some disordered eating. In the United States it is estimated that there are 8 million people with an eating disorder. You may be surprised to know that at least 1 million of those are male and the number is on the rise (source). There is a lot of pressure for men to have a muscular body (a body that is not attainable for many). This pressure leads to the abuse of steroids and exercise.

When I was reading up on this I found an article with this quote:

"Those who felt their bodies didn't measure up to the ideal reported that they worked out so much that weight training interfered with other parts of their lives. They also took protein supplements, were likely to report eating disorder symptoms, and thought about using steroids to enhance muscle growth."

This is not just a problem for women anymore. Another article said this:

"A 2002 study by the University of Wisconsin suggests that this new focus on fit and muscled male bodies is causing men the same anxiety and personal insecurity that women have felt for decades."

We have moved into a whole new realm in the media world. A place where men and women are portrayed as always fitting into a specific stereotype. It allows no room for diversity in any way. And we are buying into it.

So here are my thoughts: This needs to stop. So when we are teaching our sons to respect all types of women, and we are teaching our daughters to own their beauty just as they are we need to make sure we are looking at both sides of the issues. Our sons don't have to be a specific body type either. Our daughters need to be taught to respect differences in men as well as women. Sons need to know that they are amazing, handsome, and talented even if they never become a lumberjack.

Image source
Old spice image source